Red Tails, Django Unchained and Zero Dark Thirty are all horrible, execrable and straight up indefensible movies on both aesthetic and political levels (not that the two aren't mutually penetrating). Chalking up the failure of a steaming dog turd like Red Tails to institutional racism requires such tortured, muddle-headed logic I don't even know where to begin. I can't imagine the headspace you'd have to be in to think a movie whose trailer featured the bog standard hyperkinetic yet soporific visual language of contemporary action films, playstation-cutscene CGI, inane dialogue and celebration of American militarism and imperialism, all set to fucking dubstep would be even remotely close to watchable.
At the risk of going on for pages and pages about all the things disgusting and moronic about Zero Dark Thirty and its left-liberal apologists who are okay with setting the Middle East ablaze so long as Democrats and "analytical people" like Obama are the ones carrying it out, I'll just say that you're pretty much lost at sea politically if you think there's anything "ambigious" about this sub-Riefenstahl CIA bootlicking. I guess for the hosts, how you cast Samuel L. Jackson is more evidently "reactionary" than the very existence of a product of the military-intelligence-entertainment complex such as Zeo Dark Thirty.
For serious though, as far as movies made last year about race and politics go, Lincoln is hands down the better one even though it's got its own flaws - most notably, the occasional lapses into the stentorian and sentimental, and the typical liberal's indifference towards the role of the masses in popular politics by placing undue emphasis on the politicking and "bipartisanship". Of course, with art, there's always what the artist consciously hopes to accomplish and what s/he unconsciously expresses. In spite of their conscious
attempts to make the movie a quasi-allegorical message about bipartisanship and compromise presumably as "advice" to the Obama administration, the filmmakers are sufficiently serious about their craft that their very representation of the revolutionary scope and drama of the Civil War and its protagonists refuses to be reduced to fit the their own political narrowness of vision. Misteps aside, it's actually a reasonably well-made movie, more of a rarity than ever in Hollywood these days.
Here's some words more worth reading than my own ranting:
[Columnist Ann Hornaday] writes that Django Unchained’s writer-director takes on the slave system “with exploitative excess… It could be that to capture the perversity of a system of kidnapped human beings who were routinely bought, sold, raped, maimed and murdered, it takes genre filmmaking at its most graphic and hyperbolic. How else can movies make proper symbolic sense of America’s bloodiest, most shameful chapter?”
This is ahistorical moralizing. Slavery was part and parcel of the early development of world capitalism, a system whose operations today Hornaday would not think of calling into question. Marx explained in Capital, “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” These “idyllic proceedings,” he explained, were key moments in the primitive accumulation of capital.
Horrifying conditions also existed in the industrial towns and cities of England, where children, according to a contemporary commentator, “were harassed to the brink of death by excess of labour ... were flogged, fettered and tortured in the most exquisite refinement of cruelty; ... they were in many cases starved to the bone while flogged to their work and ... even in some instances ... were driven to commit suicide” (cited in Capital). In the same work, responding to an exposure of the conditions of the slaves in the American South, Marx observed, “For slave-trade read labour-market, for Kentucky and Virginia, Ireland and the agricultural districts of England, Scotland, and Wales, for Africa, Germany.” Entire generations were killed off in factories, workshops and mines. The life expectancy of a working-class man in Manchester in 1840 was 17.
In fact, Lincoln brings an audience far closer to the truth because it locates slavery in real history, not as the product of innate racism and filthiness, à la Tarantino and his apologists, but as an economic system doomed by its backwardness and cruelty, as well as by the political and moral opposition it generated. To see a human being torn to pieces by dogs does not bring us closer to the heart of the matter, it merely brings us nearer to Tarantino’s morbid and unhealthy obsessions.
Throughout her Post column, Hornaday makes the argument that slavery was such a “perverse” and irrational phenomenon that it calls for distortion and untruth in its treatment. “But even at its most lurid, preposterous and ahistorical, ‘Django Unchained’ communicates truths that more solemn, self-serious treatises [i.e., [i]Lincoln[/i]] might miss” and “Perhaps it takes the inaccurate insanity of Django and [Abraham Lincoln:] Vampire Hunter (!) to account for the insanity of a country that became a global power on the backs of chattel.”
Art requires abstraction, condensation and exaggeration. This is not what Tarantino or Bigelow are about. Their representations of life are false not because they are trying through such means to get at essential realities, but because, in the end, they want to cover those up. By painting pictures, in the one case, not of an economic order that must be overthrown, but of a country and a population that implicitly deserve to be incinerated (Django Unchained) and, in the other, of a military-intelligence apparatus engaged and occasionally ‘crossing a moral line’ in the battle with unfathomable, alien evil (Zero Dark Thirty), Tarantino and Bigelow are coming to the ideological and moral defense of the American status quo.